In 1905, The Field Museum was in dire need of a permanent home. Its original building, the Palace of Fine Arts from the World’s Columbian Exposition, was rapidly deteriorating.

Contained within “The 1909 Burnham Plan for Chicago,” the plans for the new building were controversial both because of the proposed location and the style of the architecture. Burnham initially planned to place the museum on Congress Street in the center of Grant Park. Opposition arose to having any buildings in the park, and a legal battle that went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court moved the museum’s proposed location. They initially decided to rebuild the museum in Jackson Park, and the steel and marble were delivered to the site in anticipation of construction. The plan was changed again when the South Park Commission reacquired land just south of Grant Park, and the museum was ultimately built at its present location just south of Roosevelt Road.

Construction on the new building began on July 26, 1915. In 1918, the plans for the Museum were altered to allow the Museum to act as a hospital during World War I. Though the Board of Trustees reluctantly gave in to the agreement, the government cancelled the contract before any recovering soldiers were ever seen at the Field. More information on the Museum's brief relationship with the military can be found at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Workers moving several exhibits from the old Field Columbian Museum building to the present Field Museum location. 

Construction took almost six years to complete and cost approximately $7,000,000. The foundation alone took one year, and extends down 95 feet in some places. When it was first constructed, the building was made of 350,000 cubic feet of white Georgia marble and covered 20 acres of floor space. On May 2, 1921, the Field Museum was reopened to the public. Since that time, many additions have been made to the Museum’s floor plan, most notably the 2005 construction of the Collection’s Resource Center which added 186,000 square feet on two under-ground levels. The Museum’s exhibition space occupies over 480,000 square feet on the Ground, Main and Upper levels.  Stanley Field Hall itself accounts for a half an acre of floor space, with a length of 300 feet and a width of 70 feet. The Hall’s floor is comprised of 300 million year old fossilized limestone.

Field Museum Architecture Bibliography

Field Museum construction site view of the south entrance with cranes lifting marble roofing tiles in place, dated 12 July 1918.

Neoclassical Inspiration: The Erechtheum and other Grecian and Roman Temples

See more images of the Grecian elements of the Field Museum's architecture.

  • Botany, Low Relief Panel by Henry Hering, Winged female figure holding plants, fruits and flowers.
  • Geology, Low Relief Panel by Henry Hering, Winged female figure holding a globe with North and South American continents and a torch representing fire.
  • Zoology, Low Relief Panel by Henry Hering, Winged female figure holding a horned animal skull.

The Muses

Located at each corner of Stanley Field Hall, the four muses depict the purposes for which The Field Museum was founded.

Image slideshow

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